Happy Ancestor Appreciation Day!
Every man of us has all the centuries in him. -- John Morley
Today is Ancestor Appreciation Day!
I thought this was a good time to talk about how we can bring our ancestors, and the people of the past, alive for ourselves and for our children!
Now, I must preface this article with the fact that I have been a genealogist (studying family history) and amateur historian for the greater part of my adult life. My love of history actually started as a young girl.
However, I will say that I did not learn what I know from my public school education. I learned it from my own reading and pursuing of the subjects I found interesting. For my part, at least, my history classes were woefully lacking in character and interest (with the exception of Mr. Dickson, my high school American history teacher). The teachers had us memorize dates or read the book and take tests. We never read diaries, discussed the political or religious climate, and we never talked about the people.
And therein lay the problem. History is not merely names, dates, and places. History is about people and their choices based on the customs, beliefs, and pressures of their time. After all, we are all to a very great extent a product of the time in which we live.
If you're a reluctant historian, or if your child views history as dull and boring, here are some suggestions to light both your fire for history, your child's, and to maybe begin studying and appreciation your own ancestors.
Remember that history did not occur in a vacuum. And American history did not start with the Pilgrims. At least six thousand years of human history had passed before this event took place. Also, while the Pilgrims were enduring their harsh winter, other events were happening around the globe. All of these events impacted one another, just as they do today.
Read historical novels. While they are not always accurate in every detail, there is no better way to get the flavor of a time period. For really savvy scholars, the inaccuracies can be found. For the rest of us, they probably don't matter.
Immerse yourself in the time period you're studying. If you're studying the Romans, then go to the library and get as many books on the Romans as you can. (Even young children can do this!) Find novels and poems written from that time. Sing songs from the time period. If possible, find movies and websites relating to that area of study. Do crafts from the time period.
Compare and contrast the time period you're studying to other eras. How are they alike? How are they different? How do they compare with our lives? Explore the "trigger" factors that caused people to act in a certain way or to make certain choices relative to that period.
Always, always look at the people. This is the most important aspect of historical study. If children can't see the people in the history, they can't see themselves in an historical context. If they can't understand the choices someone made because of the social and political climate of the times, or due to the social and moral constraints or pressures of the time, then they can't be conscious of their own choices today.
If you have genealogical material available from another family member, get it. There is nothing that connects a child to the past than knowing "their great-great-great-great grandfather" fought during the Civil War, or even further back, was with Washington when he crossed the Delaware. Some genealogies go back as far as England and beyond. For some reason these connections mean something to a child, and their interest immediately picks up. (Heck - for the rest of us they mean something as well!)
Impress upon children they are a product of their ancestors. This may be truer than any of us realize. Not too long ago, genetic research proved genetic characteristics can reach back as far as seven generations. That pulls most of us back to an ancestor that lived well over a hundred and fifty years ago. And even despite genetics, we are where we are because of the choices our ancestors made - whether they chose to move west with the pioneers, whether they chose to come to Texas to fight for independence, whether they fled the potato famine in Ireland, or whether they chose to leave their native country and come to America due to religious persecutions or economic promises.
Last but not least, make clear to your children that their own history is about God and His Story in their lives, as in the rest of the world. We must, as Christians, make choices according to God's eternal and natural law, not according to the present standards and social mores of the world, which change not only on a generational basis, but from culture to culture and decade to decade. Children will more likely identify social and cultural factors at work today that operate apart from God's law if they can find them in the past.
And remember, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn't change. His word has always remained the same. And ultimately, history has always been, and will ever be, His Story.